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Interview

U.K. Crushers Sylosis Join As I Lay Dying For Debut U.S. Tour; Rhythm Section Reports In

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Band Photo: Sylosis (?)

Britain's latest and finest metal exports Sylosis have hordes of fans to gain on their maiden American tour, and - being real men - are not letting injuries or other such bollocks get in their way. In support of their recent sophomore effort "Edge Of The Earth," Sylosis have hit these shores in the coveted opening slot on As I Lay Dying's widespread "Decade Of Destruction" tour. While still gaining their true footing, the band are sure to win a loyal audience with their towering progressive death/thrash formula, which blends the old school with the modern without apparent effort.

In a cramped dressing room at the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts (with the bloody racket of support act The Ghost Inside piercing the walls), I checked in with Sylosis' rhythm section, consisting of bassist Carl Parnell and drummer Rob Callard. Young touring guitarist Brandon Ellis - previously seen on stage with Arsis - was also silently present, having filled in for injured axeman Alex Bailey.

Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): Well, you guys have certainly gotten your first U.S. tour off to an interesting start, with a debilitating injury to a key member. The story had better be good!

Rob Callard: Well, Bailey just went to a sports bar, got a bit drunk, and had a bit of a nasty fall on his wrist. So there’s not much else to it, really. He’s going to be out for six weeks at least, before he can take his cast off.

Mike: Making it across the pond for the first time is a pretty big deal for U.K. and European bands. Is it everything you hoped it’d be so far?

Carl Parnell: Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. The food is playing havoc with our immune systems, [Laughs] but otherwise it’s been really good, especially on our headlining dates. The turnout was good.

Rob: Yeah, the fans have been really supportive, on all our headlining dates especially, where they come specifically for us. It’s insane.

Carl: Especially in Columbus and in New York.

Rob: It’s a really, really good crowd, and we’re pretty grateful to have people coming out to see us.

Mike: A little about your sound: it’s quite modern, but old school thrash and death metal influences are prominent as well. Was that type of cutting edge combination a deliberate move from the beginning?

Rob: To be honest, [vocalist/guitarist Josh Middleton] is the main writer, and he’s always been really into old school stuff. He just writes pretty much whatever he likes, and he doesn’t tend to think “I need to try and force this, or force that.” Then we all add our bits to it, and it comes out that way.

Carl: And we’re all fully well into it as soon as he plays it to us, ‘cause he’s a genius.

Rob: He’s a nerd. [Laughs]

Mike: Speaking of Josh, he once stated definitively of Sylosis, “We don’t play breakdowns.” Yet here you are, on what most people would describe as a metalcore tour. How do you feel you’ve been received by that fan base? Are you being viewed differently from the pack?

Carl: Well, pretty much every night, we’ve had at least one person come up to us saying that he’s never heard of us, but that he’s probably well into us, and that he’s going to check out our back catalogue and stuff.

Rob: But we’ve noticed that the girls that come to these shows don’t particularly like us. They don’t like the shred.

Mike: Huh!

Carl: Women go to see the hot bods, and we’re just some sods from the U.K.

Rob: [Laughs] We haven’t got tattoos or nice hair, and we don’t throw our guitars around.

Carl: But musical metal fans, they seem to dig us.

Mike: Very strange. There’s some kind of disconnect between this young scene and traditional shredding metal, power chords, that kind of thing – at least in this country.

Rob: It’s the same in the U.K. as well. It’s a pretty similar scene. We spent ten years trying to make a mark, and we’re finally starting to make a pretty decent one in the U.K. now. You get all these older people who come down and say, “You remind me of when I used to go to shows to see Metallica,” and shit like that. They’re all coming out. [Laughs]

Mike: How about a band like As I Lay Dying? They no longer resemble much of the music they inspired, so are they a metalcore band by today’s standards – or just plain metal?

Carl: Pigeonholing music annoys me. If I like a band, I’ll listen to them. I don’t care how they’re labeled.

Rob: I saw As I Lay Dying when I was about sixteen in Oxford, and they were one of the first bands I saw where I instantly picked up the CD. They were opening for Lamb Of God, first band on, kind of like the position we’re in now. Everyone was sort of just standing there watching, but I was like… “CD…” [Laughs] Fucking loved it.

Carl: Yeah, why not go to a gig just because a band is labeled a certain way? Go anyway. Get wasted. You might like the bands.

Mike: Sylosis underwent a pretty significant lineup shift after the debut album “Conclusion Of An Age,” [2008] when your frontman Jamie Graham left and Josh took over lead vocals. What kind of impact has that had on the composition of your songs?

Rob: To be honest, the writing hasn’t really changed. It was always done the same. And even with Jamie’s vocals, we all had input on them as well. He did write a lot of the lyrics actually, but the change is more of a live thing. Now we have a static frontman who can’t move away from the mike and run around the stage and shit. So we sort of lost a little bit of energy, but Carl and Bailey have picked it up.

Carl: Yeah, I’ve had to put way more effort in.

Rob: [Laughs] But also, I think a four-piece looks cooler. It’s symmetrical and doesn’t look cluttered.

Carl: All the classic bands are four-pieces. And people definitely comment on how difficult it must be for Josh to sing and play guitar, and we’re still amazed. We don’t know how he does it. He’d never done it before. When we parted ways with Jamie, he was like, “Well, I’ll give it a go,” and it was fine.

Mike: The songwriting credits are anonymous on the new album. Have you two contributed any music?

Rob: Drum-wise, I’ll go into the studio, and I’ll get demos of the tracks from Josh and hear how he thinks it should sound, and I’ll have time to sort of tweak bits, change bits, and stuff just comes up on the spot. The opening track, “Procession,” we actually wrote the whole end part of that in the studio, just on the spot. We were just like, “Let’s do something massive that sounds crazy.”

Carl: And I don’t change my bass lines, ‘cause Josh knows what he’s doing, and I’m happy to do what he wants.

Rob: Bailey writes as well, parts or whole songs.

Carl: Generally lyrically, it’s all Josh.

Mike: At least that frees you up to focus entirely on the performance, Carl. It seems that’s what’s most fun about bass.

Carl: Oh yeah, definitely.

Rob: It’s the best instrument to rock out on, without a doubt.

Carl: Yeah, it’s the easiest. [Laughs]

Mike: Your old school influences are pretty well documented, but I’m curious about some newer ones, let’s say over the past decade. Has anyone put anything out that hit you so hard, you thought, “Man, we’ve gotta write something like that?”

Carl: Gojira, I’d say straight away.

Rob: That’s directly influenced Josh’s vocal style. That sort of pitched shouting or screaming, where it isn’t just a noise, but pitched correctly.

Carl: The production has swayed that way as well.

Rob: Yeah, and Mastodon as well. Those kinds of vocals are more enjoyable to listen to sometimes.

Mike: Anyone else you’ve been into lately?

Carl: Revocation.

Rob: One of the bands I’ve been most into recently is Karnivool, an Aussie band. The drummer for me is just insane.

Carl: Pretty clean singing, and atmospheric.

Rob: They’re just a fucking good band. Live, as well.

Mike: Reflecting on the first shows you ever played with Sylosis, how differently do you see yourselves then compared to tonight?

Carl: Well, I looked like an idiot ten years ago. Although I look like an idiot now…

Rob: [Laughs] What was the first Sylosis gig? I wasn’t in till six years ago.

Carl: We played with a band called Vacant Stare, who were pretty big at the time.

Rob: Wasn’t it a sports hall, or something?

Carl: No, that was the first EVER Sylosis gig, but I wasn’t in the band. I played the third ever Sylosis gig, and I just literally shit myself.

Rob: I think the best thing to compare the first gig to would be Sonisphere, this year in the U.K. We managed to swing the main stage, where we played after Metallica. Not the same night, obviously, but the next morning. It was the most intimidating stage; it was like it had its own weather system.

Carl: Yeah, we had 45,000 people come out to see us that morning, which we were told was a bigger turnout than the headliner that night, Biffy Clyro. I just couldn’t get over it. There were bits of pyro left over from Metallica’s set.

Rob: And it was a sea of people.

Mike: Until now, as a band, what do you feel has been your greatest disappointment and your greatest victory?

Carl: There haven’t been that many low points. Well, Bailey breaking his arm has been pretty stressful.

Rob: I can’t really think of anything other than that, though.

Carl: Yeah, we’ve had shitty gigs here and there, but we’ve never been that down about anything.

Rob: When we were playing as a three-piece, and we hadn’t found Brandon yet, and we were just stressing over whether we could actually even do this tour – that was a pretty low point there. And the highest point…

Carl: Sonisphere.

Rob: Sonisphere.

Mike: Players of every rock instrument claim that their position is the best in a live setting, that they whip crowds up the rowdiest or attract the ladies the easiest. Which cliché is true?

Carl: Probably the vocalist.

Rob: Yeah, vocalist. Easily.

Carl: Even though Josh has got a girlfriend.

Rob: That’s good though, ‘cause they can fall back on us! [Laughs]

Carl: And get a crushing disappointment when they come backstage.

Rob: But as a drummer, if there are actually girls on the stage, watching you smash the shit out of something, there might be something fucking…

Carl: Primal. [Laughs]

Mike: Then again, there’s no better phallic symbol than a guitar or bass.

Rob: It’s the longest!

Carl: Yeah, I’ve got a big head. [Laughs]

Mike: Any releases you’re really enjoying from this year?

Carl: New Mastodon, definitely. That was a good album, and that Revocation album I was talking about. I usually just listen to old stuff over and over. Classic Metallica, obviously.

Rob: He just never gives up.

Mike: Have you guys heard this infamous new Metallica project with Lou Reed?

Carl: I’ve not bothered to listen to it, but everyone’s been going on about it, so I might give it a go.

Rob: It’s called “Lulu,” right? Yeah, I heard one track on YouTube, and it’s just not Metallica at all! When James Hetfield comes in and starts singing, then it sort of gets more of that Metallica spirit back, but when it goes back to Lou Reed, it’s just like, “Honestly, WHAT is this?” [Laughs] But because of what they’ve done in the past, I don’t think it’s going to taint their legacy too much. I think all their fans are just going to carry on listening to the old stuff.

Mike: Any great live shows you’ve managed to see this year?

Carl: I never go to gigs unless we play them. We play such diverse festivals and stuff, we always get to see a lot of bands I want to watch anyway, like Mastodon. We’ve seen Slipknot a few times, a fantastic live band. They’re amazing.

Rob: I went to see Gojira in Oxford. That was insane. Purely unbelievable tightness and professionalism. I was like, “What the hell?” It was note for note off the CD.

Mike: Britain is largely the birthplace of heavy metal proper, and has produced a long line of influential and legendary bands. Has Sylosis ever felt a certain responsibility or prestige to live up to?

Rob: I don’t feel it in the U.K., but when I go abroad, I definitely think that.

Carl: Yeah, people do respond in the way you described.

Rob: You definitely don’t want to come over here and play like shit and make an ass out of yourself, because yeah, there’s a little bit of pride, I guess. It’s a little bit more pressurized in different countries, because you’re trying to represent not only your own music, but I guess where we come from, like you said.

Carl: But we enjoy playing wherever.

Mike: In what country has it been most awkward or difficult to build a bond with the fans?

Rob: I think Germany. They’re all hardcore kids.

Carl: Yeah, with every crowd we play to. We’ve always played with hardcore-ish bands there, and the crowds just want to stab us.

Rob: [Laughs] If a tour like this were to go around there, there’d still be metal kids there. But if it’s us headlining a bill with not particularly big bands, it’s either empty, or it’s all hardcore kids, in our experience so far, at least. We haven’t been there that much.

Carl: We’re going back there again next year with Textures, so it might be a bit better for us then.

Rob: Well, they’re saying that. We played with As I Lay Dying in Germany a couple months ago, and the crowd was quite stale for us and didn’t really do anything. But we actually played another gig that night at the Summer Breeze festival, at 2am, to 11,000 people who just went nuts.

Carl: It was amazing.

Rob: But they were drunk. [Laughs]

Mike: Before we sign off, do you have a message for our American readers?

Rob: Thanks for your hospitality so far, and hopefully we can spread the word so we can grow here, and come back and shred up!

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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